Few small ensembles can boast the rich spectrum of colour and texture achievable with the wind quintet. The very nature of such striking differences in timbre between the instruments, and thus the myriad combinations of these when combined, grant the author a most versatile of compositional palettes. The modern version (consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn) has proved a sumptuous source of inspiration for a league of twentieth century composers.
It is somewhat poignant that the subject of 'La Cheminée du Roi René' (the Fireplace of King René) had always fascinated Milhaud Following the popularity of the music, Milhaud arranged his own contribution into a suite of seven movements. All very short in length, they are delightful and characterful pieces which offer some strikingly individual musical descriptions of the Mediaeval scene, and feel (as a whole) not too dissimilar to a Baroque French Suite. Milhaud achieves a true sense of neoclassicism despite his polytonal atmosphere, and the lilting, nostalgic qualities of the final 'Madrigal nocturne' have proven especially popular with audiences.
Ravel's 'Le Tombeau de Couperin' is also certainly a work which falls into the category of French Suite. The years over which it was composed (1914-1917) were obviously extremely troubled times in Europe, and Ravel faced not only the devastation of the loss of many friends throughout the war, but also the death of his mother in 1917. Milhaud's Wind Quintet no.1 was written in 1948. The opening movement incorporates an almost operatic style of 'overture', yet both the slow introduction as well as the 'allegro assai' resound with mysterious, searching and dreamlike qualities. A jolly 'presto' follows, after which an introspective 'theme and variations' weaves gently and thought-provokingly. Typical of the composer's sense of bravura coupled with humour, the work culminates in a 'French' march of fun and fantastical frolics.